Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. (Acts 3:1-10 ESV)
We in the United States are the wealthiest country in the world. I guess. I’ve heard that all my life, and I admit I sometimes wonder what that means exactly. Our currency sets the global standard. Our GDP is the highest in the world (now rivaled by the EU). We have greater gold reserves than everyone else, and serious oil reserves. English is still somewhat a universal language of trade. Etc.
But so what?
I’m not against money in any way. I do understand that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil”. (See 1 Timothy 6:10) Money isn’t. Loving it is. I also understand that many things that tout their own greatness are not worth what they cost. Many of the things we can buy in life are like that toy you get so worked up over having, and are so excited about when you find it under the Christmas tree, but when you finally get it open and play with it for a months or weeks or even hours, it leaves you cold.
Things do that. Period. They cannot satisfy. Those who see and feel that reality might feel like it’s a curse, but that’s actually a blessing. If you feel like your stuff is doing it for you, that’s when you’re really in trouble.
So, back to the story… Peter and John were personal friends of Jesus. Followers. Disciples. Apostles. Jesus had gone into heaven, sent the Holy Spirit to anoint and activate them, and now they walked about in the power and Name of the Living God, Jesus Christ, whom they saw crucified, dead, buried, and then risen again in power. These were changed men.
They had nothing. No jobs. No status. No real earthly treasure. I’m sure they owned little more than they carried around on their backs that day. They were probably even dirty. Certainly somewhat unkempt.
Walking into town that day, they met a man who was born lame. In our day, someone who can’t walk can still have a very fulfilling life, hold down a good job, own a home, and roll his wheelchair up ramps mandated by the government to make everything from grocery stores to office buildings accessible to him. Having legs that don’t work or no legs at all doesn’t necessarily translate into going hungry in our day. In Jesus’ day, it did.
So, Peter and John meet this man. He has nothing, and asks them for financial help. No doubt he would have bought a bit of bread or some other basic sustenance if they’d offered him a few coins. But the truth is, Peter and John likely had little more than he did, from a monetary point of view.
And this is where the story gets good.
Peter and John get the man’s attention. I’m sure he thought he was going to get some cash out of the deal, so he becomes very focused. Can you feel his dependence? His hanging on their every word?
But they surprise him: “I have no silver and gold…”
Can you feel his disappointment and deflation? His utter helplessness?
Then the real surprise: “But what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”
Now, can you imagine his amazement and utter joy?
None of these men had money, but Peter and John had something far greater: power. Jesus had promised it just a few chapters earlier (See Acts 1:8), and kept His word.
And he did!
Do you think the man cared in that moment that they had no money? That he had no money? I doubt it. Something far more valuable was being freely given by the God who provides for our needs, if we’ll let Him.
Did the lame guy earn this gift from God? Not at all. In our day, we study and work and research and toil and educate and purchase insurance and build hospitals and pay deductibles. And we make the lame walk … sometimes. At least, the lame who can afford it. And there is a very real sense in which that too is a miracle. God uses doctors every day to heal the sick. But I wonder sometimes if there isn’t a bit of self-worship and idolatry in it. Like money, the power to heal isn’t bad at all, until it becomes the means by which we trust ourselves more than we trust God.
Now, tougher question… Did the crippled man only experience the miracle and the amazement because he first experienced the helplessness and dependence?
And that’s where I want to dwell for a second…
It is said that, in the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas once visited Pope Innocent II while he was counting a large sum of money. The Pope proudly remarked to Aquinas, “You see, Thomas, the church can no longer say, ‘silver and gold have I none.'” And Aquinas replied, “True, holy father, but neither can she now say, ‘Rise and walk.'”
In our age of wealth and science and (perceived) knowledge and power and self-reliance, are we in God’s way? Are we deaf to His voice?
If Peter and John had been sporting expensive suits and fat wallets, on their way to the office that morning, then it would have been a great … good … helpful … what’s the right word? … nice … gesture to drop a couple alms in the lame man’s cup, right? Or maybe a coupon book for a local fast food place? Or a hot cup of coffee? That’s all great. And helpful. But in that version of the story, it’s also highly unlikely that they would (or is it more to the point: could they?) have offered the man a miracle. Can someone with a high-paying job and enough cash in their pocket to afford a great healthcare plan have the faith to allow God to miraculously heal them or use them to heal their neighbor? Can God work miracles in us when we’re that self-sufficient? I’m not sure.
What if we didn’t have the fat wallet, or the high-paying job, or the expensive suit? What if that all went away? What if the healthcare system goes to the dogs under a new government-run approach, or interest rates spike, or China has us for economic lunch, or the dollar collapses, or the next terrorist attack is worse than the last one, or whatever? What if all the stuff we thought was making us secure was suddenly gone?
Maybe then, God would do more miracles because I’d have more faith, borne out in desperate and dependent face-down prayer?
Maybe we’d read Luke 17:6 or Matthew 6:28-33, and actually believe them … taking Jesus at His word when He says our faith has real life-changing power and that if God takes care of sparrows and lilies, He will take care of us.
Maybe the church would act more like the church… sharing what we have, being a real part of each others’ lives, taking the time to care for one another, caring for the poor and needy, and loving our neighbors. You know, acting like Jesus.
And maybe more people would rise and walk.